Getting bored by the same old travel destinations? Visiting historic site after historic site, church after church, temple after temple, mosque after mosque, museum after museum? Why not break up your travel experiences with a few carefully-selected animal encounters?
Choose the animals you like most, find out where they can best be observed in the wild, and set off on your journey. There’s a risk that it will all go wrong, that the animals won’t show up the day you are there, that you’ll see nothing and go home disappointed, but that’s part of the thrill. Plan your animal encounters well and they are likely to be a success. And even if they aren’t a success, they’ll still probably be more enjoyable than yet another boring museum,
Here are a few of my most thrilling animal encounters.
Thrilling animal encounters: Asia
Humans swim with wild animals all the time. Every time you take a dip in the ocean or in a river you’re likely to be swimming next to something or other – whether you’re aware of it or not. But humans and wild animals bathing together? That doesn’t sound right. And yet that’s exactly what started happening in the onsen (hot springs/baths) in Japan.
Thrilling animal encounters: Africa
During peak season Lake Nakuru, in southwestern Kenya, hosts between one and two million flamingos. It’s a gathering that has been described as the greatest bird spectacle on Earth.
There’s a hippo outside my tent.
It’s been there, ten, twenty, thirty minutes; maybe longer. I can’t tell. Does the hippo know I’m here? It mustn’t. It’d go nuts if it knew I was here, less than ten metres away, separated from it by just a thin canvas wall. Lie back down. Go to sleep. Try to slow my heart. Try to calm down. Go to sleep.
Gelada Baboons, or Bleeding Heart Monkeys as they are also known (due to the red marking on their chest) aren’t true baboons. They’re baboon-like primates, but of their own genus (Theropithecus).
What do you think you’ll find inside a 600 metre deep pit in the middle of Africa?
Wildlife, and lots of it.
I’d always wanted to do a self-drive safari, and De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape region of South Africa, was the perfect place to start.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy has the largest population of Black Rhinoceros in East Africa; it’s estimated that there about 100 of the shy, reclusive animals living in the park. It is also home to the world’s rarest zebra: Grevy’s Zebra.
‘Go down this trail,’ says the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre guide, ‘and keep an eye on the river bank, and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a crocodile. But they’re very rare.’ ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Okay? You mean you’ll go?’ ‘Yep. Why not?’ ‘Alright, but you probably won’t see any crocodiles; they’re very rare.’
Thrilling animal encounters: Oceania
Tonga is one of the few places in the world where your whale watching experience includes swimming right up alongside the whales.
Thrilling animal encounters: the Caribbean
The leatherback turtle is so immense it could be mistaken for a dinosaur. And it does seem a relic of a lost world; an enigmatic monster of the sea, like the kraken.